NASA will launch a sailing probe to asteroid

The U.S. space Agency plans to launch a probe, equipped with a solar sail. He will leave earth orbit and go to the distant asteroid due to the pressure of sunlight. Like the ships of the discoverers of the 15th century, in 2018, a small space probe will unfurl the sail and start a journey to a faraway asteroid, marking the beginning of a new phase in space exploration.

The idea of using solar sails for space flight was proposed almost a hundred years ago, Soviet rocketry pioneer Friedrich Zander. It was based on the fact that Photons of light can exert pressure on the illuminated surface, giving him his momentum. Therefore, if you expand behind the ship a giant mirror, his speed will gradually increase without using fuel.

However, the first experimental devices were established only at the very end of the twentieth century. This is because space sailboats should be very easy, and their embodiment in life became possible only after the emergence of a truly compact electronics.

In 2010 the Japanese space Agency demonstrated the potential of solar sails for future interplanetary missions. The IKAROS probe is unfolded in orbit, the mirror of polyamide film with an area of 200 square meters, after which the engineers can control the speed and direction of movement.

Now the American kosmicheskogo NASA announced the impending launch, dubbed “near-Earth asteroid scout” (NEA Scout), who first leave the Earth’s orbit solely under the pressure of sunlight. Flying to a small asteroid 1991 VG will last two and a half years. During this time, the probe will speed up to an impressive speed of 28.6 kilometers per second. For comparison: now the fastest spacecraft is the “Voyager-1”, which moves outside the Solar system at a speed of 17 kilometers per second.

This result will be achieved due to the compact size of the probe, resembling a shoebox, and the sail area of 80 square meters.

“From the point of view of the finite speed of sail wins a race in the engine, as in the case of the tortoise and the hare, says Les Johnson (Les Johnson) Space center Marshall. The rocket provides a huge initial thrust, but eventually all the fuel is burned. Sail does not use any fuel and can accelerate to to until the Sun shines”.

It should be noted that the objective of the mission is not only to study the characteristics of the new way of moving in space, but numerous scientific studies. Despite its modest size, NEA Scout is equipped with everything needed to capture images of the asteroid, determine its chemical composition, size and motion parameters.

In NASA believe that such scouts will help in the future to collect the required information and choose a target for manned flights to asteroids. In particular, before planting you need to know exactly what an asteroid is a monolithic solid object and not a pile of stones, United by the force of gravity, its rotation is smooth and predictable.

During the flight the apparatus will be at least one time to slow down and maneuver to pass just a kilometer from the surface of 1991 VG.

In the previous probes was used for this purpose special electro-coating, which allowed us to darken the part of the sail and make turns due to the different pressure of the solar wind. But the designers of NEA Scout chose a different approach. The probe housing slides forward and backward relative to the booms of the sails, and the canvas itself is equipped with a tilting mechanism, allowing you to change direction.

This in turn opens opportunities for the study of such hard-to-reach places, such as the polar region of the Sun. Today, to get out of the plane of the Ecliptic of the Solar system and take a look at our star “on top” or “bottom”, we have to send spacecraft to Jupiter and perform a gravitational maneuver, coming back from a different angle. In the case of the sail, to change the trajectory enough to partially deflect it upwards.

In addition, sailing the satellite can hover over any point on our planet outside of the geostationary orbit, which, as is known, corresponds to the equator. Sunlight will constantly push the device upwards to compensate for the pull of the Earth.

As reported in a press release NASA, NEA Scout was among 13 innovative satellites that will be launched during the first start of a new super-heavy rocket Space Launch System (SLS). The same rocket will take into space multipurpose space ship “Orion” unmanned test flight to the moon.

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